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Suicide by Pills

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A character uses medication in pill form to intentionally overdose and kill themself. While any medicine fits the bill, more often than not, it will be sleeping pills. If the character's body is discovered by a loved one, will often lead to a Please Wake Up moment.

This version of Choosing Death is used a lot as part of the Rule of Drama for a couple of reasons. First, since the pills need to work their way through a person's bloodstream, it creates a window of time during which writers can wring out as much dramatic tension as possible. Often this comes in the form of a Race Against the Clock with other characters trying to get to the soon-to-be-deceased in time to either take them to the hospital or force them to throw up the pills they took. The extra time also allows for Mid-Suicide Regret to kick in, allowing the character a chance to save themselves.

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Second, in contrast to eating your own gun, slitting one's wrists, or even hanging oneself, overdosing is (thought of being) a far less messy and less painful way to go about offing oneself, leaving the body relatively clean, whole, and most importantly, unmarred for any follow-up scenes in which other characters must interact with it.

This second point, along with the ideas that Women Are Delicate, Delicate Is Beautiful, and Beauty Is Never Tarnished, helps to explain why though anyone can die from a drug overdose, this trope is often the way creators in modern times have had female characters kill themselves. On a more practical note, the pristine body that one leaves behind is much more visually appealing for a Died in Your Arms Tonight moment if The Hero arrives too late to save them.

Bleak as it may be, this trope can be played for Black Comedy if the character tries to use a non-lethal medicine like daily vitamins or health supplements, either because they didn't know better or because it's all they had access to.note 

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See also Drugs Are Bad. A Sister Trope to Cyanide Pill, which refers to the specific case of spies or henchmen carrying a lethal dosage of cyanide to kill themselves should they ever be captured or cornered in order to avoid spilling secrets or A Fate Worse Than Death.

Unfortunately, Truth in Television as many do choose to do this in order to take their own lives. Therefore, No Real Life Examples, Please!

As this is a Death Trope, be careful of unmarked spoilers below.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Black Jack, one story has a woman staying at a hotel preparing to commit suicide via overdosing on pills. She's in the process of writing a farewell note to her parents (explaining that she embezzled money for her lover, who abandoned her and left her penniless) when a little boy in the next room runs in, shouting how his father is incredibly sick and he needs someone to help. For the rest of the story, she forgets about her planned suicide in favor of helping the boy and his father. The story concludes with Black Jack operating on the father and telling the woman that he "bought" the pills off of her, conveniently paying the exact amount that she embezzled and had thought herself unable to pay back.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Sound Euphonium fanfic Ambitious Love, Reina took a bunch of pills, decided she didn't want to die, then got herself to the hospital. To her surprise, her ex-girlfriend Kumiko is a physician at the hospital.
  • Befana Blasts: Hawk Moth attempts suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills after thinking he accidentally destroyed the Ladybug Miraculous. He is rescued by Nathalie and arrested afterwards.
  • Deep Dish Nine: Discussed in the story "Rewiring", where Garak, who is suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, looks at some sleeping pills. He notes that if he took one or two, he would sleep, and if he took all of them, he would die, and he sees both as viable options. Eventually, however, he decides to do neither and flushes them instead.
  • Lisa attempts this in Lisa Fitzgerald on her eleventh birthday, in an attempt to escape her miserable life. Luckily, she accidentally takes vitamins instead of anything harmful.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager fanfic A New Beginning, a teenage girl tries to kill herself by eating aspirin.
  • One Year on Probation: In the In Medias Res prologue, it's revealed that Akira tried to overdose on his medication due to Shido winning the election. He survived, but he is rendered comatose as a result.
  • Reversal Grief Remembrance is a Big Hero 6 one-shot where, grief stricken after his brother's death, Hiro decides to kill himself. He takes an illegal euthanasia pill. Halfway through, he freaks out and tries to stop the pill from working. He fails.
  • One flashback in chapter 2 of Royalty-free Rerun confirms that Sumire attempted to overdose on pills a few days before the battle with Maruki, out of guilt for her part in Kasumi's death and her depression, only to get cold feet, puke them out, and call Akira for comfort at the last second.

    Film — Animated 
  • In the animated adaptation of Persepolis, Marjane tries to overdose on pills. She finds herself in a nebulous space with God and Karl Marx. God tells her that it's not time for her to die, and Marx agrees. They send Marjane back to her body, with Marx urging her as she goes...
    Marx: The struggle goes on! Right?
    God: sigh Yeah, yeah. The struggle goes on.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Apartment: When Fran tries to end the affair she's having with him, Sheldrake convinces Fran to stay promising her he will leave his wife. Fran later finds out that she's one of many women Sheldrake is seeing. She confronts him and though he professes genuine love for her, he returns to his family. Brokenhearted and distraught, Fran swallows Bud's entire bottle of sleeping pills. Luckily, Bud finds her and is able to get her to a doctor (his next-door neighbor, in fact) before it's too late, sparking the romance of the rest of the film.
  • In Applause, rather than see her daughter April abandon a chance at happiness with Tony and follow in her footsteps by becoming a burlesque girl to support her, Kitty kills herself by overdosing on sleeping pills.
  • Cyberbully: After being bullied online and having her heart broken, Taylor attempts to take a lot of aspirin to kill herself. Luckily, she can't get the cap off and is stopped by her friend Samantha.
  • The Dark: Sarah tries to take her life using sleeping pills after an argument with her mother as just one of many characters Driven to Suicide in the film.
  • In Harold and Maude, Maude had long planned to end her life on her 80th birthday, and at the film's climax takes a lethal dose of pills not out of despair or sadness but with the satisfaction of a life well-lived. Despite his morbidity and long history of threatening suicide, Harold is horrified and distraught when he finds out and rushes her to the hospital against her wishes, but she doesn't survive.
  • In Heathers, Heather McNamara attempts suicide in the school bathroom by overdosing on pills. Fortunately, Veronica arrives in time to force her to spit them out and comforts her.
    Heather McNamara: Suicide is a private thing.
    Veronica: You're throwing your life away to become a statistic on US-fucking-A Today. That's about the least private thing I can think of.
  • Towards the end of Igby Goes Down, Mimi learns that she has cancer and decides to kill herself through a lethal dose of pills hidden in strawberry ice cream.
  • Legend: After foreshadowing it for the majority of the film, Frances ends up killing herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
  • Limelight opens with Calvero smelling gas coming from a room in the building and goes on to save Terry Just in Time before the sleeping pills and gas could do their work on her.
  • In Liz & Dick, the highly dramatized made-for-TV biopic detailing the publicized affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Elizabeth attempts to commit suicide by swallowing pills after Richard, the man Elizabeth left her husband for, decides to end their affair and stay with his own wife Sybil.
  • The Mother and the Whore: When Marie gets excluded from Veronika and Alexandre's lovemaking, she gets up and swallows a bunch of pills. It's not fully clear whether she actually intended to kill herself or was simply acting out to get attention. Either way, it doesn't work as Alexandre, after forcing Marie to throw up the pills, goes right back to getting it on with Veronika.
  • The Possession of Michael King: Near the end of the movie, Michael swallows an assortment of pills to kill himself and the malevolent demons that are possessing his body. Unfortunately, they force him to spit it all back up.
  • Priest (1994): Father Greg just got Forced Out of the Closet and has to face the reactions of his parish while his Crisis of Faith is also fueled by him harming someone due to inaction. When his priest colleague Father Matthew catches on, he tries to encourage Greg not to give up, on which Greg informs him placidly that he has just taken an overdose of paracetamol pills. Father Matthew has him brought to the hospital for a gastric lavage Just in Time.
  • Runaway Jury: Rikki Coleman attempts this but is saved before she can die. She was Driven to Suicide by blackmailers who were going to reveal the fact that she had an abortion if she remained a jury member.
  • In A Safe Place (1971), Bari discusses how she did not remember that she tried to kill herself in this way when she woke up in a hospital. Learning that she failed to kill herself however made her fall into even more despair.
  • A flashback in The Sentinel (1977) shows Alison Parker as a teenager, miserable under an abusive father and an "I can't cope" mother, attempt suicide by ingesting barbiturates. She survives, but as a Catholic, has committed a mortal sin in trying to kill herself. This act qualifies her to be the next Sentinel.
  • Se7en: John Doe cuts off The Pride victim's nose and glues a phone to one hand and sleeping pills to the other, offering her the Suicidal Sadistic Choice of calling for help (but having to live with her disfigurement) or killing herself by overdosing. As proof of her vanity, she chooses the latter.
  • The Skeleton Twins: Maggie is introduced holding a handful of pills over her bathroom sink, heavily implying she was about to kill herself when she gets a call informing her that her brother Milo has attempted suicide.
  • Trading Places: Louis Winthorpe III, a formerly wealthy investment banker, hits rock bottom when he can't get his job or fortune back after failing to frame Billy Ray Valentine (who was given Louis's job and fortune) for embezzlement at the company Christmas party. Afterwards, he drunkenly goes back to Ophelia's apartment, locks himself in the bathroom, and passes out in the bathtub after swallowing a handful of pills. Luckily, Billy Ray followed him and when Louis comes to, Billy Ray reveals that the Duke Brothers, the owners of the investment firm that employed them, ruined his life for a $1.00 bet.
  • In the Tina Turner Biopic What's Love Got to Do with It, Tina attempts to kill herself by swallowing an entire prescription of sleeping pills after being raped and beaten repeatedly by Ike. However, she is saved at the last minute by her backup singers.
  • How Claire commits suicide in White Oleander after her marital issues and depression prove too much for her to handle.
  • Would You Rather: Iris takes part in a sadistic millionaire's party game and crosses every conceivable ethical boundary in order to fund her brother Raleigh's treatment, only to find in the end that Raleigh killed himself by overdosing on pills.

    Literature 
  • In The Bell Jar, Esther tries to kill herself 3 times (by cutting, hanging, and drowning, in order) before she actually attempts to go through with it. She then takes a large amount of sleeping pills in a hole in the basement, only for her to be found, sent to the hospital, and end up in an asylum.
  • In Clear and Present Danger, after realizing that she was the leak that resulted in the drug cartels murdering FBI Director Jacobs, his secretary Moira downs half a bottle of sleeping pills. One of her kids finds her and the bottle and calls 911 before they kill her.
  • In Destination Unknown, secret agent Jessop contacts protagonist Hilary Craven because he's noticed she bought several sleeping medicines. He asks her to go on a dangerous mission instead.
  • In Eye of a Fly, after Warren succumbs to his depression and kills himself by drinking ant poison, Aunt Cynthia becomes so despondent that she eventually follows suit by overdosing on sleeping pills.
  • Futuretrack Five: Idris kills himself by overdosing on pills (and makes sure to be found clutching a different bottle from the pills he took, so if he's found the medics will draw the wrong conclusion about how to treat him).
  • In the book Innocent In Death, the au pair walks in to find that her employer has consumed sleeping pills. Subverted as her daughter was the one that slipped her the pills and framed it to look like a suicide.
  • The Reveal in Jessica's Ghost is that the titular character committed suicide by running into the woods and overdosing on unspecified pills.
  • Before the main story of Lucky Jim begins, Margaret tries unsuccessfully to kill herself with sleeping pills.
  • In the story "Octopussy" from Octopussy and The Living Daylights, Smythe's wife kills herself by overdosing on sleeping pills after their marriage takes a turn for the worst.
  • The Power of One: Doc, Peekay's teacher and best friend, decides on a whim that his time has come after everyone else in South Africa accuses him of being a German spy. He dies quietly and neatly by overdosing on pills inside the Crystal Cave of Africa, where he and Peekay used to explore.
  • Discussed in Reconstructing Amelia. After her daughter dies, Kate begins actively contemplating killing herself and works out that she'd do it with a pill overdose in bed. However, she decides against it, since she believes she deserves to live with her guilt as a punishment for not preventing her daughter's (alleged) suicide.
  • Skippy Dies begins with the titular character dying on the floor of a doughnut shop as his friends and a shopworker try desperately and futilely trying to revive him. The rest of the story reveals that Skippy took a lethal dose of pain pills in response to a cascade of terrible events.
  • The Stand: Rita Blakemoor can't handle the shock and stress of the post-plague world and uses sleeping pills to overdose and kill herself.
  • In The Three-Body Problem, Ye Wenjie's daughter Yang Dong, a genius physicist, kills herself by overdosing on sleeping pills after confirming the experimental discovery that quantum physics is fundamentally unverifiable and unlearnable (as well as that her own mother is in cahoots with the aliens on their way to wipe out humanity).
  • Infamously in Valley of the Dolls, Jennifer overdoses on sleeping pills when she learns she'll have to get a mastectomy because doing so would ruin her looks despite saving her life. The idea that she was only valuable because of her looks was reinforced by her husband revealing himself to be just another man who only cared for her looks, praising her breasts in particular.
  • The Virgin Suicides: Mary overdoses on sleeping pills later on in the story after her first attempt to kill herself failed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the pilot episode of A Million Little Things, Rome receives the call that John had just committed suicide just as he was about to swallow a mouthful of pills. The shock is enough to snap him out of it and he eventually seeks help.
  • In Angel, after coming out of his own fit of depression (due to trying to lose his soul and failing), Angel stops Kate from killing herself with pills.
  • In the season 2 finale of After Life (2019), Tony decides to try and commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills after his father dies. It's only the timely arrival of Emma at his doorstep that stops him.
  • In the finale of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, facing the prospect of losing everything because of Donatella's machinations, Antonio tries to kill himself by downing a whole plate of pills, but he is found by a maid and saved.
  • In the season 2 episode of Barney Miller titled "Fear of Flying", a man is brought into the precinct who reveals that he has a compulsion to do things in twos, including getting married. His second wife enters the precinct and downs an entire bottle of sleeping pills having found out the truth. The detectives use Yemana's terrible coffee to get her to throw it all back up.
  • Invoked in the season 3 episode of Battlestar Galactica (2003) "The Passage", in which Kat gets exposed to a fatal level of radiation. Kara gives her a bottle of sleeping pills so Kat can choose to die peacefully as opposed to suffering through radiation poisoning.
  • The Class (2006):
    • The series opens with Richie standing at the sink with a handful of sleeping pills and a glass of water. The phone rings, and it's played for comedy as he decides to answer or not. He does and is invited to a party with his entire second grade class from 25 years ago.
    • The following episode opens with him at the sink again, only this time, he swallows the pills before the phone rings. A woman he met the night before and accidentally ran over is out of surgery and wants to see him, so he goes to the hospital, but gets his stomach pumped first before he goes to her room.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Thankfully subverted at the end of "I Never Want To See Josh Again." While flying home from a disastrous visit to her mother's house, Rebecca downs a bunch of her mother's anxiety pills in an attempt to kill herself. As her consciousness fades, Rebecca hallucinates the "HELP" button above her head to read "HOPE," convincing her to press it and get a flight attendant to help her before she dies. Rebecca gets medical treatment as soon as she gets home.
  • The Crown: In the season 3 finale, Princess Margaret has another blowout argument with her husband Antony over her indiscreetly carrying on an extramarital affair with Roddy. This is despite the fact that he too is cheating on her. Roddy, who is witness to this, backs out of the room and disappears, leaving Margaret abandoned by both her lover and her husband. She ends up overdosing on pills and it is left ambiguous whether or not it was an accident or intentional.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation: In the season 13 episode, "Believe," Zoe tries this after she is raped but ends up living.
  • Desperate Housewives: Played With. After being exposed as a murderer in Season 2, George Williams swallows a deadly dose of sleeping pills. However, he didn't actually intend to die; he was expecting his ex-fiancee Bree Van de Kamp to save him by calling for an ambulance. Unfortunately for him, she chooses not to and lets him die, making everyone believe that he committed suicide.
  • Emergency!:
    • One episode has the paramedics arrive to assist a teenage girl who attempted suicide by ingesting pills. A complication occurs when the patient refuses aid; California law prohibits paramedics from treating anyone who's an adult, conscious, and refuses aid. They must wait until the girl passes out before beginning treatment. As it turns out, the girl tried to overdose on aspirin.
    • In the episode "Understanding," a woman calls Rampart from her home, saying she swallowed some downers and turned on the gas, and just wants someone to talk to while she dies. The doctors rush to find her address, complete with a Phone-Trace Race, so paramedics and a fire truck can be dispatched to her house to save her and deal with a possible gas explosion.
  • ER: The show's very first episode had Carol Hathaway being brought in, having overdosed on pills. She survives but this was actually supposed to be successful, but test audiences liked her character and so she recovered.
  • Gimme, Gimme, Gimme: Played for Laughs in "Dirty 30". Tom, realizing that he drove away his parents after they did something really nice for him, tries to kill himself by swallowing some of Beryl's pills. Beryl quickly points out that said pills are multivitamins.
  • The Golden Girls: In "Not Another Monday," Sophia's friend Martha decides to commit suicide in this manner after the death of her friend Lydia and asks Sophia to sit with her when she does it. Sophia is able to talk her out of it and the two cry together.
  • Diverging from its source material, Guardian has Li Qian's grandmother actually commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills out of guilt after seeing how stressed Li Qian was. Li Qian only claimed that she killed her grandmother to distract herself from the grief of losing her most loved one.
  • Invoked and then subverted in Love, Lies and Murder. David set it up for his daughter Cinnamon, after shooting her stepmother, to kill herself this way in order to show her sorrow and get away with the crime. She survives because she vomited up the majority of the excessive amount.
  • Midnight Caller: In "The Loneliest Number," Jack's sister Katie tries to swallow a fistful of pills after her relationship with Deacon fails since she thinks she'll never be able to be in a relationship without immediately screwing it up. Jack and Deacon find her at the last minute and knock the pills out of her hand.
  • ''Misfits: Abbie tries to kill herself by overdosing with pills when Laura rejects her and Jess stops it.
  • Soap: Subverted with a Happily Failed Suicide since after Jodie takes a bunch of sleeping pills in an attempt to kill herself, she merely falls asleep and wakes up as the most emotionally healthy character in the series.
  • "Beauty Rest" from season 4 of Tales from the Crypt begins with Helen, failing to land another modeling gig after trying for 10 years, preparing to end her life this way. She stops herself and puts the pills in the cup of another model, intending just to knock her out so she could take her place as MC for an upcoming beauty pageant. The dose is too strong and Helen ends up accidentally killing her.
  • Total Recall 2070: Later in the series, David Hume's wife Olivia is driven to suicide by people who want to stop her from testifying for a murder that she saw someone else commit. David catches her in time and gets her to throw up the pills she swallowed.
  • At the end of season 1 of Twin Peaks, Nadine lays herself out dramatically and attempts to die via a lethal dose of pills, due to her despair at the failure of her business venture. She is rushed to the hospital in a coma but survives, waking up with Super Strength and the delusion that she is still a teenager.
  • Subverted in the US version of Wilfred, with Ryan attempting suicide with what turns out to be sugar pills.
  • The Young Ones: Rick tries to do this in order to spite his flatmates, but it backfires because he took laxatives rather than pills.

    Music 
  • Vocaloid: Discussed in Nashimoto-P's "Suicide Song" sung by Hatsune Miku. The narrator first says she is going to hang herself, only to give up once she realizes that she doesn't have a rope. She then decides to commit briquette suicide, only to realize that her lighter is out of oil. Finally, she chooses to chug a bottle of pills, but gives up on killing herself entirely once she realizes that she has no water to take the pills with because she forgot to pay her water bill. It is clear that she doesn't really want to kill herself because her excuses are rather flimsy: if she could go out and buy a bottle of pills, what's stopping her from buying a rope, or a new lighter, or a bottle of water?
  • Mary Lambert: Discussed in Body Love with the lyrics "The funny thing is women like us don't shoot, We swallow pills, still wanting to be beautiful at the morgue". Potently showing that the pursuit of beauty can leave someone unwilling to even leave behind a corpse that isn't attractive
    "I only know how to exist when I am wanted."

    Theatre 
  • For Colored Girls: Crystal, after being catatonic, tries to kill herself with pills.
  • Just like her film counterpart, Heather McNamara from Heathers attempts suicide in this manner, and is rescued by Veronica. The scene has quite a bit of bathos, with Heather's genuine anguish and Veronica's attempts to console her being undercut by Heather still having a mouthful of pills, which fall out while she talks.

    Video Games 
  • Death Stranding: Lucy, Sam's wife, has a mental breakdown after months of nightmares caused by being pregnant with her and Sam's child, due to Sam being a DOOMS sufferer that likely got passed down onto his child. When she went with that to Bridget, she told her that the nightmares aren't just a figment of her imagination, but the real visions of the upcoming end of the world, which all DOOMS sufferers experience. Lucy decides to kill herself and her child by taking a whole bottle of sleeping pills, with her suicide note saying that she has syringes loaded with sedatives next to her if that won't be enough.
  • Leave: It is implied that either the player character, a little girl with glasses, or her sister killed their father by sticking sleeping pills in his liquor, as you have to stick sleeping pills in his liquor bottle and then slash a picture with his face on it to escape the house'.

    Web Comics 
  • In Ape, Not Monkey the anti-vaccine pig attempted to commit suicide using homeopathic sleeping pills in a parody of this trope.
  • One arc of Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell has Darwin take over the angels' job as a psychopomp as a favor, and he's tasked with carrying a departed soul to the next life. The soul in question took a lethal dose of pills over his lost love, but after meeting Darwin he has second thoughts and tries to return to his body, eventually persuading Darwin to take him to the hospital where he ultimately recovers. In typical No Good Deed Goes Unpunished fashion, Darwin then gets chewed out for "going against God's will" by not letting the guy die.
  • In Yuuko's first meeting with the necrophiliac Shiunji in Sexy Losers, she's standing outside the guardrails of a bridge. However, at the thought of Shiunji having sex with her corpse when it washes ashore, she changes her mind and downs a bunch of sleeping pills in the privacy of her own room.
  • In Dumbing of Age this was how Becky's mother died.It's implied she did so to get away from Ross, who was emotionally abusive and The Fundamentalist to the extreme. Poor Becky was the one who found her body.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • A subversion occurs when Stewie says that he replaced Meg's sleeping pills with AlkaSeltzers. The scene then cuts to Meg in her bedroom, attempting suicide by downing a handful of the pills, only to be unaffected other than burping loudly.
    • Discussed in the episode where Chris becomes the leader of the cool kids. As Chris' party rages downstairs, Lois tries to console Meg who can't go downstairs from her bedroom as she wasn't invited to a party in her own house. Eventually, Lois just gives up, leaves her a Sylvia Plath book and a bottle of pills and in an annoyed tone of voice tells Meg: "Whatever happens, happens."
    • In "Stewie Loves Lois", Stewie tries to stage one of these in an attempt to get Lois to pay attention to him. Then Brian comes in:
      Brian: You look like a jackass.
      Stewie: Can't hear you Brian, I'm dead.
      Brian: All right. *plugs up the toilet with a towel, then flushes*
      Stewie: What did you do? *toilet overflows and begins to flood the bathroom* Oh, that is so not cool...
  • The Shivering Truth: A man repeatedly tries to kill himself and every attempt ends up not only as a Bungled Suicide, but also causes good things to happen. When he tries to off himself by ingesting multiple drugs, he ends up making himself healthier than ever and his blood becomes a potential component for a Cure for Cancer.

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